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6 council candidates field CIBO questions
Wednesday, 04 March 2020 00:18

Turner, Rony, Turner voice opposition to property tax increase proposal

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A number of pre-selected questions were asked of each of the six candidates appearing at a forum for candidates for Asheville City Council hosted by the Council of Independent Business Owners on Feb. 7 at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

CIBO Vice President John Carroll — in the absence of President Buzzy Cannady — served as the forum’s moderator and asked the questions. About 55 people attended the early-morning breakfast meeting.

Participants included Councilman Keith Young, who is the Buncombe County Deputy Clerk of Superior Court, and the lone incumbent running for re-election; along with newcomers real estate broker Sandra Kilgore, construction project manager Shane McCarthy, piano teacher Kim Roney, activist Nicole Townsend and French Broad Food Co-op project manager Sage Turner.

Three candidates missed the forum, while one has dropped out of the race. A primary on March 3 will whittle the field to the top six vote-getters. The six finalists will then vye for the three open seats in the Nov. 3 general election.

While Young is seeking re-election, council members Brian Haynes is retiring from politics and Julie Mayfield is vacating her seat to run for the North Carolina Senate seat in District 49.

The first question asked the candidates to state their top priorities if elected to council.Kilgore answered, “If I’m elected my first priority is uniting the city. … I can be instrumental in connecting those dots and making the programs works....”

McCarthy responded, “So, when I’m elected to City Council, my top three priorities will be affordable housing, making  sure we’re no longer the most dangerous city in the state for mass transit and protecting our natural environment — we need to protect our tree canopy.”

To the same question, Roney replied that her priorites would include affordable housing, “community-based participatory budgeting” and environmental and transportation initiatives.Regarding mass transit, Roney added, “I took a bus to knock on doors” for her campaign. “We need buses” to connect workers with their jobs and homes. “We need Wi-Fi on the buses, so people can work while they travel.”

Townsend said of her priorities, if elected, “No one working for our public schools should have to work two jobs.”She also said “environmental justice” would be emphasized, along with “public safety,” which, for her, means “I think of sidewalks and bike lanes.”

Turner answered, “Again, my top priority is affordable housing... I believe in a plan that we can do it... I support anything we can do to move to renewables... Right now, 77 percent of us drive alone. That’s not working... Additionally, responsible growth is part of resiliency.”

Young replied that his “number one  priority would be affordability. I’d like to continue funding infrastructure improvements, our transportation with our buses, our affordable housing and jobs.” He added, “One of the main responsibilities you’ll have as a council person is to set the tax rate — at 3 cents per $100 increase” for the property tax he is proposing.

Next, Carroll asked the candidates for their stances on the proposed property tax increase.

McCarthy responded, “I would vote for the proposal. That’s about $100 a year for an average home. It’s going to improve transit service and protect our tree canopy. I understand it will raise our taxes. I don’t believe there’s anyone on our stage who doesn’t believe in raising your taxes. The property tax is a progressive way to increase revenue, while the sales tax is regressive. I believe everyone here favors the progressive way.”

Roney said, “I’m not supporting the property tax as proposed. Use the resources we already have in our community for the things we need.”

Towsend asserted, “I do not support the 3-cent increase. I do favor building a statewide coalition to see if we can increase the alcohol tax,” with which to fund local improvements.

Turner said, “I, too, don’t support the tax increase. I don’t think we should raise taxes for that issue. We need to be protective of the very people …. I do think we need to diversify our income....”

Regarding the tax plan, Young triggered some chuckles from the CIBO audience when he quipped, “Yes, I will support my proposal... All the things the folks (candidates) up here say they want — you can’t do without more money. When people say these things, you have to have the guts to say you’ll stand by that.”

Kilgore said, “I think the tax increase is reasonable if it can be justified. I think it needs to be researched to see how it impacts people in the community. I do think the food and beverage tax increase is justified.”

For the third question, Carroll said, “Recently, CIBO has heard (concerns) about needles ... overall public safety in West Asheville — as a council member, do you think this is a problem? And if so, how will you deal with it?

Roney replied, “I pick up needles in my neighborhood in West Asheville,” routinely. “I don’t have anywhere to put them. I went to a meeting (recently) at Trinity Baptist on Haywood Road. People came up with great ideas” for dealing with the needles’ problems, including the city of Portland, Maine, which “has come up with small (metal) containers to put needles in.”

Roney added, “The reason we’ve seen concentratons of (homeless) people in (certain) areas is because public bathrooms and water fountains are needed.”

Townsend said, “We need solutions to affordable housing. We need to work with you. I think we need to have more intense community conversations across race and class on how we resolve these issues.”

Turner asserted, “I live in West Asheville — and I see these problems. I think we have to attack our issues, and not our people. When you’re struggling to get by, you’re looking for escape. I do believe we need to have harm-reduction methods. We also have to look for partnerships with the county.”

Young said, “I’m empathetic to individuals with addictions to drugs or who may be homeless in the transient community. However, there’s a line between empathy and realism. On the realistic side, I don’t want to ‘police’ people out of the situation. The law is the law,” especially “if you’re accosting people, vandalizing.... On empathy, how do we help these people? There has to be a fine line between empathy and realism.”

Kilgore answered, “I don’t think we can police our way out of this either. We need a task force. We probably could help a lot of those people and move them off the streets. I think that would combat a lot of the problem.”

McCarthy said, “Needles — yes, it’s definitely been a rising problem. At the civic center parking garage, they installed needle containers — and it helped. The organizations providing clean needles are working. Without them, we’d have more blood-borne diseases.”

For the fourth CIBO question, Carroll asked, “Why is it difficult to have more affordable housing in this city and what can be done to fix the problem?”

Townsend answered, “We’ve allowed our developers to be in charge of our affordable housing. I think we need to make sure our public land goes to the city and not let the developers build and control affordable housing.”

Turner said, “I see this problem frequently. The cost of land is an issue. This will continue to drive up prices. We also need to look at the procedures for getting projects approved. We need to simplify the process.”

Young replied, “Affordable housing is hard to build in the City of Asheville because of the metrics — land costs are high.”

To the CIBO audience, Young added, “Some who might want to jump into that arena. If it doesn’t work out, it’s often due to financing. I’d like to finance these projects through short- or long-term obiligation funds. That’s how you fix it — you make the ‘soft’ costs a little easier for the developers ... and you do the projects yourself.’

Kilgore answered, “I’d be more interested in securing living wages than minimum wages. Right now, the income is so low, most of the lower income people could only afford $100,000 units. With living wage, they could afford” homes closer to the median home price range.

McCarthy said, “The reason developers don’t build them (affordable housing untis) is because they don’t make profits. If the private sector isn’t doing it, then the government needs to step in.”

Roney replied, “Two things I understand… is the cost is land and of construction. And that’s what makes it unaffordable. We’re going to have to address our zoning to make it possible to build… I want to build apartments not parking spaces, y’all.”

On a fifth question, Carroll asked, “CIBO recognizes Asheville needs a viable transit system. But Asheville’s is one of most inefficient. What will you do to fix the problem?”

Turner answered, “I do support a quarter-cent (tax) increase, to improve transit. On one hand, it needs to go further out in the community. On the other, it needs to be more frequent. Anything we can do to fully implement the transit master plan” would constitute a major step forward.

Young said, “This is one of those questions where folks will say, ‘You need to do this. You need to do that.’ I propose, along with (Councilwoman) Julie Mayfield, that we need to do it now — not two or three years down the road. We need to have the funds, but we also need to build the capacity. These are the things folks realize. It sounds good to say we can ask the county for money. But I don’t know how this will work, considering the way the county has spent its money.”

Kilgore responded, “I do believe in a modified version. I think we should look at free (bus) fares for senior citizens, disabled” and others needing help.

“It sounds good to say we can ask the county for money. But I don’t know how this will work, considering the way the county has spent its money.”

McCarthy said, “Getting rid of our (bus) fares is a great way to increase efficiency.”

He explained that studies show that, without taking time at each stop to collect fares, “People are getting to work on time. Also, fares are a tiny fraction of our revenue. So I think it’s a no-brainer. I think letting (only) some people ride free will add to the complexity.”

Roney responded by saying that council also needs to focus on “the cost of not doing it (going fare-free with its buses). It’s about $100,000 per month to get evening hours. Get money from Mission’s (Health’s) sale....”

Roney also noted that “Athens, Ga., has an effort to get free fares, based on our (Asheville) data,” and she mused how ironic it would be if Athens forged ahead of Asheville, using Asheville’s research, while Asheville remained undecided.

Townsend said, “One of the reasons I’ve become a car-owner is because of the inconsistencies of bus services. It doesn’t run when and where I need to go. I support fare-free transit. I want to work with the people who have been riding the bus for years.”

For the sixth — and last — question, Carroll asked, “Recently, there have been many boiled water advisories. As a council member, how would you fix this?”

Young answered, “Continue our initiatives. We have a 100-plus-year-old water system. You have to map what you replace. You do need the money to be able to do it. It is an embarrassment. But we are in a position to improve it.”

Kilgore said, “The infrastructure issue is a big one in Asheville because of all of the growth and construction. It’s affecting our water system. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing.”

McCarthy said he was talking to a friend from Charlotte “about all of our water boil advisories,” to which the friend responded that he did not think any advanced American city still had boil water advisories.
“So I propose to reform the emergnecy notification system so it’s timely, accurate across all platforms.”

Roney replied, “What I’m suggesting we need — investing in our food, water and tree canopies for our families and our futures.”

Townsend said, “We eed to invest in our long-term water-boil advisories.”

Turner answered, “It’s true we need a better system. We’re on top of it. This is part of building where the infrastructure already exists.”



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